Thursday, October 13, 2022

Assembly Line Tempura

Tenkai on Aberdeen Street is only one of the handful tempura "specialists" in town, and naturally hugely popular being one of the most reasonably priced and we couldn't travel. Even when we made ours 3 months in advance, we only managed 2 seats in the later, less favorable seating of 8:15pm on a Friday evening. 

We arrived 15 minutes before our booking time and were made to wait in line outside the steep, narrow street with the other customers while the staff made any final preparation. Menu has been pre-selected at the time of booking so upon settled in, all we needed was to decide on what to drink. And within 10 minutes of everyone seated around the counter, the chef, a quiet lad working behind the counter, began to fire up the pan and prepare our dishes in order. 

On paper, the menu looked long with 10 courses plus dessert. We began with the appetizer of negitoro with tororo (chopped fatty tuna with scallions and grated mountain yam) followed by a couple seafood tempura to start. The prawn was done with a slightly thicker batter than usual but fine with a light dip of salt that's served on the side. The mongou-ika (squid), with a more delicate batter, was tender with a bouncy bite. The amadai (tilefish), again in a thicker batter, was deep-fried in oil with skin-on and the skin was done crispy and golden. 

Two vegetable courses were then served. I thought the chef was a bit frugal in keeping the more woody part of the asparagus stalk and the taste was a bit too mild. The eggplant fared slightly better. It's more tricky to prepare given its higher water content, but it was delicious with longer cooking time with a batter fried golden. The scallop did come in decent size, cooked whole with the center done just right with its pinky color. 

The last two fried courses were peculiar choices, first with chicken breast with mentaiko, then black hanpen (fish cake) with ginger. They are totally legit dishes if we sat in a fast food joint but I expected more from a proper tempura restaurant. They tasted okay though for what they are. We finished with a small tempura "cake" with tiny cherry shrimps mixed in batter with a bowl of soba on the side, then a small bowl of fruit jelly while the chef seemed too eager to wrap up and be done for the day by starting to clean up, with us feeling our stomach still half empty with the portion of the dishes more fitting as afternoon snack rather than a bona fide dinner. 

Throughout the evening I felt the service was cold and distant. We were reminded to arrive promptly but made to wait outside on a rainy evening; while we were inside the chef minded his own business the entire time and just running through the drill like an assembly line with one course after another delivered "mechanically". The portion was way too small even for an average person (just one prawn? What's going on?) and when we wanted to order some additional items towards the end but were told any add-on must be requested at the time of reservation - at the end we had to settle with a bowl of instant ramen back home because most restaurants have closed by the time we finished our meal. 

True, their price is more than reasonable and nothing wrong for the business to mind their bottom line more than customer's experience, but for sure next time, I would rather go for a high street joint such as Marugame Seimen (a popular Japanese fast food joint in town which is even cheaper and at least just as good), or leave it to a few other tried-and-true restaurants in town that offered something more proper and enjoyable, and treat customers like one. 

When? August 5 2022
Where? Tenkai, 17 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Amadai Tempura 
志太泉焼津山田錦純米吟醸 - 静岡県 志太泉酒造 
Shidaizumi Yaizu Yamada-nishiki Junmai Ginjo - Shidaizumi Shuzo, Shizuoka Prefecture

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